Afghanistan’s fledgling Taliban leadership is set to use military bases abandoned by the United States during its 2021 withdrawal from the country as ‘special economic zones’ for businesses as part of a drive to support economic self-sufficiency, a top government official said in a statement on Sunday.
“Following a thorough discussion, it was decided that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce should progressively take control of the remaining military bases of the foreign forces with the intention of converting them into special economic zones,” acting deputy prime minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said.
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This comes after acting commerce minister Haji Nooruddin Azizi said earlier this year that the Taliban government intends to launch a “national self-sufficiency program” to boost the use of domestic products.
“We will support any item which can help us for self-sufficiency,” he said, adding that this messaging would be “encouraged [to] people through mosques.”
Aid agencies have warned of a potentially severe humanitarian crisis as Afghanistan’s economy struggles under Taliban rule following its takeover after foreign troops left the country in the wake of nearly 20 years of war.
The Islamic fundamentalist group experienced little-to-no resistance from President Ashraf Ghani’s forces when it captured the Afghan capital Kabul on August 15, 2021, as it returned to power after the US overthrew its regime two decades earlier.
The capture of power led to the freezing of central bank assets held overseas, as well as sanctions being imposed on its banking sector. The country is also heavily dependent on humanitarian aid. However, the World Bank recently delivered a better-than-expected appraisal of Afghanistan’s fiscal affairs, saying high exports and a stable exchange rate had been noted under Taliban rule.
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The Taliban say they remain committed to boosting its economy through trade and investment – though foreign investors are understood to be anxious at the idea of establishing trade relationships after a series of attacks in the country.
In December, armed men opened fire at a hotel frequently used by Chinese businessmen in what was seen as a warning to foreign investors considering working with the Taliban-led government. Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.